From March 26 to June 25, 2022
In more than 5 decades of work, Luiz Alphonsus has built a thorough production, responsible for granting him a historic place in the development of Brazilian contemporary art – from his experimental subjects from the 70’s to his cosmic worries of the present. Being in front of a powerful set of his work requires from us viewers a special involvement with his repertoire and interests, as to be able to comprehend the motions a piece is capable of recording in its lifetime and context; a recording which engraves in the socio-cultural surface of the present moment, based on a unique set of components and worries, which are not only individual but above all collective.
As a reader of astronomical subjects, Alphonsus is interested in the imaginary surrounding the great agglomerates of galaxies, the cosmic web which makes Earth seem like a single tiny grain of sand. Here, pieces such as Esfera enterrada na superfície do Globo (1970), O lugar onde estamos (1970) and Um corte na noite (1974), enable us to identify certain similarities with some of the resources present in astronomical images and letters – the grids and quadrants are there to locate objects, such as stars, constellations and galaxies, highlighting them. It is impossible to ignore the fact that those years marked the intensification of the space race thus consequently, of the production and distribution of celestial images. The Blue Marble, for example – the first clear image of the illuminated surface of Earth, image taken by the crew in mission Apollo 8 – became public in the height of the environmental activism of the 70’s and transformed itself in a pop icon (to this day, it is believed to be one of the most distributed images of history).
However, the cosmic dimension present in the artist’s work is located beyond representations and visual codifications, and is based on a distinct series of work, as a way to operate thoughts. Túnel – (1969), presented in the emblematic Salão da Bússola¹, at the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro, consisted in carrying out a “drawing on two surfaces”. Alphonsus reunited two groups² of people at the entrance of the tunnel, which interconnected the neighborhoods Botafogo and Copabacana. One group entered the tunnel while the other crossed the same distance on ground-level, walking through the mountain. The experience, documented in photos and sound recordings, exposed a simultaneity of facts in time, but separated by time itself. Alphonsus was considering something crucial for the theory of relativity – the fact that time must be integrally connected to the spatial dimension, as the rate of sense of time observed depends on the velocity of the object in relation to its observer. From this moment on, many other pieces would be provoked by this kind of interest. Encontro em um ponto (1970)³, for example, presents converging lines which do not touch, but which lead our imagination to connect them at a certain infinite point. Depending on the angle, where would they touch? Still in this city or somewhere overseas? On planet Earth or somewhere in the macrocosm? This is a classic problem of Euclidean and Projective Geometry, which in the context of the artist’s work, also operates to expand the notions of time and space and produces a land art which overcomes the physical limitations of space, by requiring the use of our imagination. In the perspective of quantum physics, particles go through walls. Here, imaginary lines cross rock and water in a speculative function. Regarding this context, it is worth highlighting Negativo Positivo (1970), the fruit of an ephemeral action carried out on the beach. By digging a rectangular hole in the sand, Alphonsus opposed, with the help of fire, night/day, light/dark situations, as announced in the title. Alphonsus’ hole of domestic scale simulates a sort of private cosmos, now able to be seen. Alphonsus acts as a projector of galaxies, paraphrasing here the title of another one of his works; or, on the contrary, he can be seen as a builder of black holes which suck out the surrounding light. This is his enigmatic environment – his clear enigma, as his fellow countryman Carlos Drummond de Andrade would say.
By considering these aspects in the calculations of his pieces, Alphonsus invites us to locate his production not only on the city’s map, but on the surface of the globe itself and in the unknown limits of the universe⁴. It is about elevating “Copacabana to the height of the cosmos”, as Roberto Pontual once said. If this first moment of production – at least until 1973 – mainly used photography as a support to register, the artist from then on began to experiment with solutions that were more hybrid, developing his own techniques which would overlay and reset different photographic images, intervening on them with pencil and/or ecoline and would then re-photograph them; something he himself called “pre-photoshop”.
Speaking of Copacabana, we are invited to redirect our head. Not only looking upwards, as someone who searches the corners of the sky, but also downwards, in search of the concrete soil of the city’s corners, seeking to find out what happens in the heart of this clod made of rock and metal called Earth. In parallel to these conceptual operations – although we talk about a “Caboclo concept”, as the artist wanted, in other words, a thought involved in the contaminations and contradictions of its local context – Alphonsus was interested in negotiating metaphysics with subjects of violence as language of our daily lives; his mental operations found malandragem and the sensuousness of the bodies which challenge the wilderness of the city. “A feeling has passed by”, says one of his pieces present in Coração 7/7/77 exhibit held in the Experimental Area of the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro, and which was a landmark in his desire to inebriate ideas. For an artist who little-by-little nurtured a considerable insertion in Brazil’s art scene, it was also important to resist to the labels given to his generation and to his own production, manifesting the courage to drift and disagree. This is the moment Alphonsus dedicates himself to typical conflicts of Rio de Janeiro, involving his body in the city’s North Zone, passing by bars and the socio-political dramas of the people surrounding him, but overall the dangers that enclose the fascinating dark of the dawns. Besame Mucho (1973) manifests this change, as a type of synthesis of the violence of Rio de Janeiro aligned to the period of strengthening of the military state’s oppressive forces and its leaden years. The enactment of a murder choreographed through a red and delirious filter, to the sound of Ray Connif’s interpretation of the classic “Besame Mucho” of Consuelo Velázquez, establishes a seemingly carefree dramatic atmosphere with the sobriety of the first conceptual pieces. In addition to Besame Mucho, works such as As balas que restaram do meu último assalto – Zona Sul/Baixa Flu (1975-1984) and Tensão – (1972), also expose the city’s condition of a broken city which exceeds the comeliness of its postcards and tropical fetishes – in Rio de Janeiro, using its landscape as motif means exploring clichês surrounding a city fated to be pure-image, a horizon reproduced to exhaustion.
But beyond the brutality, I believe something cosmic in his interest in daily images persists. Copa Lua (1981), Copacabana Mulher – (1979) and Coração Vermelho (1975) present eroticism as a type of integration between subject and world, body and landscape; promise of love: possible suspension. As Afonso Henriques Neto would say in the beautiful poem dedicated to the artist, “the horses and the galaxies are / the same and clear delirium which blooms in the curve of the heart”. Thus, through this whole path, remains a sensation that it is possible of imagining more clearly something which underlies his production: the delicate braid between the furthest horizon and the most intimate contour of cities; between the sinuosity of galaxies and the curves of bodies – which are themselves mobile galaxies of particles; the mix between sidereal silence and the buzz of bars. Maybe this way it’s possible to retrace coordinates, restructure routes and forge in the center of our singleness “a new landscape for planet Earth”.